Dark Night of the Soul

As our production of Vincent for Brixton opens at RADA, I once again reflect on the ‘dark night of the soul’ that I, perhaps inexorably, am prey to. By “I” I mean of course the director but then think it’s all of us living. As Krishna says in the Gita “Not even for a moment can a man live without action” – and where there is action, there is doubt, uncertainty, agony.

If this feeling is such a normal accompaniment of life, why then do I agonise time and again, production after production? Perhaps the striving for perfection is to blame – to create the perfect moment, the gesture or word that will stir the heart. Perhaps it’s just the need for praise – not getting it pushes me deeper into darkness. Or, like the proverbial rabbit-caught-in-the-lights, it’s a realisation of being found out – of not being good enough.

Or, simply, the feeling re-confirms I am alive and in love! Four weeks of rehearsal have led to a family being forged, with all the loving intensity that the word “family” evokes – joy, despair, frustration, envy, humility, elation. And being separated from the family we’ve become – as the director inevitably is after the first night – is a gut-churning wrench; a wrench which only the next production can assuage.

A director friend once rhetorically asked why we put ourselves through such agony time and again. Why, indeed. But working with the students at RADA, I’d now answer, because it’s a privilege.

Hanif Kureishi suggested in one of his essays that actors are the priests, the shamans of the modern era. Their willingness to bare their souls in public, souls chiselled through long hours of rehearsal, is an ability that few of us possess. Faced daily with such raw art is a privilege, a gift that applause offers a barely adequate return.